If you happened to see my last post, you know that my family and I just recently returned from a week-long holiday in France–Provence to be precise. With its hilltop villages crowned with medieval castles, lush vineyards and silvery-leafed olive orchards, the imagery seduced us all over again, and once again, made a lasting impression (the first lasted 13 years). So I think it’s only natural that I’ve been trying to capture and bottle the experience and sensations by cooking as if I’m still in Provence–even though I’m back home in Northern California. Most of the Provence-inspired dishes have been a huge success, but I’m still fine-tuning.
Wanting desperately to replicate our recent experience, my husband and I dragged our jet-lagged children to three different kitchen and cookware shops in search of the small, enameled cast-iron tureens in which our fish was cooked and served to us in Provence. We nearly jumped for joy when we found the perfect-sized tureens at Williams-Sonoma. They’re made by Le Creuset, which is very pricey, but we were in luck since the small tureens we found were 60% off. The night we brought them home, I prepared a simple yellow rockfish in a Provencal sauce (tomatoes, fresh herbs, garlic, saffron, etc.). It was delicious, and the sauce was equally good to what we experienced in Provence. However, in France, they used red mullet, which if you’re not familiar with it, is a small pinkish-red fish with tender, sweet flesh. Sadly, it’s not available where we live, and the rockfish was a less than ideal substitution. I plan to make the same dish in the next week or two using monkfish. It’s so delicious, I will take the time to note my ingredients and measurements so I can share the recipe.
Of course, driving through the famous wine region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape made me want to find a way to pay homage to the humble grape. I’m always surprised how many varieties of grape you can find at even the most basic, mainstream grocery stores–at least here in the Bay Area. But I tend only to buy grapes as a snack food for the children or to serve on a fruit platter for a brunch gathering. However, years ago I bought the cookbook, “Patricia Wells At Home In Provence.” I’ve cooked a few dishes from it, and they’ve all been excellent and relatively simple. I cracked it open upon returning from France and found the perfect recipe using grapes. I’ve modified it just slightly here.
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (or omit the butter and use 1/2 cup olive oil)
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp almond extract (or grated zest of 1 orange)
10 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) small, purple grapes*
Confectioners sugar for garnish (optional)
*If you live in Provence, you have access to many different varieties of grapes for wine making, which you could use for this cake. However, in most other places, you’ll be limited to a few varieties suitable for cake making. I used Thomcord seedless–smaller and sweeter than plain red grapes, and they worked beautifully.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow in color, about 3 minutes. Add the butter, oil, milk, vanilla extract and almond extract, if using, and mix until blended.
In a medium-size bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt until thoroughly blended. Add the lemon and orange (if using) zest, and toss to coat. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until blended. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids.
Stir 1 cup of the grapes into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top using a spatula or back of a spoon.
Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes before sprinkling the remaining grapes over the top of the cake. Bake for an additional 35-40 minutes or until the cake feels firm when pressed with a fingertip.
Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife along the sides before releasing the removing the side of the springform pan. Serve at room temperature with a sprinkle of confectioners sugar.
Vive le Provence!